Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
China Businesses

Behind the Scenes With Samsung's Factory Workers 307

Posted by Soulskill
from the sunshine-and-unicorns dept.
itwbennett writes "The young women working at Samsung's factory in Tianjin, China like their jobs about as much as factory workers anywhere. The work is boring and tiring, but it pays ok and there are perks (like air conditioning in the dorms), says 19-year-old Zhao Caixia. One 23-year-old woman, who assembles 200-300 camera lenses a day, told the IDG News Service's Michael Kan: 'You just keep doing the same thing over and over. There is nothing really to like, but nothing to really dislike either.' Labor rights group China Labor Watch tells a different story (PDF). One day after Samsung said it would audit its suppliers in China, the group reported cases of excessive overtime (exceeding 100 hours per month) and exhausting working conditions, with employees being made to stand for up to 12 hours for a single shift."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Behind the Scenes With Samsung's Factory Workers

Comments Filter:
  • by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad.arnett@notf ... g ['hir' in gap]> on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:45AM (#41231423)
    But I'm pretty sure that when I lived in crapsack podunk land as a teenager, I had stood for 12 hours in a single shift working at the shithole state fair cleaning barns for not much more than minimum wage.
    • by Osgeld (1900440) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:49AM (#41231455)

      even in my company 12 hour shifts are common, in the hearland of the USA ... boo who for the Asians?

      • by formfeed (703859) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:58AM (#41231519)

        even in my company 12 hour shifts are common, in the hearland of the USA ... boo who for the Asians?

        At least you had the chance to vote for politicians that kill unions, defund OSHA, and turn the US into a third world country.

        • i wish inverse democracy worked - in the sense that the act of voting determines the quality of the candidates, where in forward democracy the quality of the candidate determines the act of voting.

          we could dream up a head of state that didn't suck!

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            i wish inverse democracy worked - in the sense that the act of voting determines the quality of the candidates

            It does, if you don't vote for the lesser evil. It is when people start talking about "strategic voting" instead of voting what you actually believe in regardless of outcome that the democracy goes to hell.
            A vote for something you don't believe in is worse than not voting at all.

            • And it takes a surprisingly small number of minority votes to change a candidate's opinion. The difference between the two front runners in a lot of elections is well under 10%, often under 1%. If 2% of the population vote for a single issue candidate, then next time around one or both candidates will realise that they can get an extra 2% of the vote by adopting those policies and that would be enough to swing the election. Unfortunately, in the USA, these issues tend to be things like abortion and gay m
            • by sjames (1099)

              These days, if you don't vote for the lesser evil, you don't vote.

            • by Ixitar (153040)

              I am voting for Cthulhu for President [cthulhu.org]. Why vote for a lesser evil?

              *duck* ... I am sorry, but it had to be said!

      • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:18AM (#41231613)

        even in my company 12 hour shifts are common, in the hearland of the USA ... boo who for the Asians?

        I worked construction for a few summers after high school -- 12 hour shifts weren't uncommon (on my feet the whole time), and I took all the overtime I could get, sometimes putting in 80 hours or more of overtime a month (six 10 hour days/week), If I didn't have to drive up to 90 minutes each way to the job site on the other side of the state, I probably would have put in more overtime. When I was lucky, I'd get to drive an escort vehicle for a wide-load truck on my way to or from the job site so I'd rack up a couple hours of work while driving to work).

        It was hard work, but I still found time to party with friends on the weekends, and the work paid most of my first two years of college.

        • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:42AM (#41231745)

          even in my company 12 hour shifts are common, in the hearland of the USA ... boo who for the Asians?

          I worked construction for a few summers after high school -- 12 hour shifts weren't uncommon (on my feet the whole time), and I took all the overtime I could get, sometimes putting in 80 hours or more of overtime a month (six 10 hour days/week), If I didn't have to drive up to 90 minutes each way to the job site on the other side of the state, I probably would have put in more overtime. When I was lucky, I'd get to drive an escort vehicle for a wide-load truck on my way to or from the job site so I'd rack up a couple hours of work while driving to work).

          It was hard work, but I still found time to party with friends on the weekends, and the work paid most of my first two years of college.

          Two things: (1) this was more or less your choice, and you were rewarded for it with bonus pay to boot. Even if your employer had made it clear at certain times they needed everyone to put in some overtime, you would've had to be paid for it at least.

          (2) you were in high school. You can do a lot of really over the top physical feats while in high school, and it's easy. It's a very different thing to being a whole career, and different again to the sort of advancement opportunities you had.

          • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:04AM (#41232133)

            Two things: (1) this was more or less your choice, and you were rewarded for it with bonus pay to boot. Even if your employer had made it clear at certain times they needed everyone to put in some overtime, you would've had to be paid for it at least.

            It was my choice in that if I didn't work there, I would have had a minimum wage job at McDonalds - with overtime hours at the construction job, I ended up getting paid over 5 times more than I would have made at McDonalds.

            So, I had a choice, but the other choice was less desirable. Sort of a like a chinese factory worker deciding between a hard life on the farm or a hard life (but more comfortable) in the factory.

            (2) you were in high school. You can do a lot of really over the top physical feats while in high school, and it's easy. It's a very different thing to being a whole career, and different again to the sort of advancement opportunities you had.

            I was 18 - 20 when I worked that job - not much different in age than the 19 and 23 year olds quoted in the summary.

            If someone chooses building camera lenses on an assembly line as a career, there's more than Samsung to blame.

            I'm not saying that working conditions in China are cushy, but saying that 12 hours/day and 25 hours of overtime/week is worker abuse ignores the fact that there are a lot of people in "developed" countries that work those same hours. If they are not getting compensated for that work, have unsafe conditions, don't have adequate breaks, etc, then that's different, but long hours don't automatically equate to worker abuse.

            • by silentcoder (1241496) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @04:10AM (#41232427) Homepage

              > they are not getting compensated for that work, have unsafe conditions, don't have adequate breaks, etc, then that's different, but long hours don't automatically equate to worker abuse.

              Actually - it does, to the extend where even in some developing countries (like mine) there is a law that can send managers to jail if they ALLOW a worker to do more than 40 hours overtime a week.
              The legal reasoning is pretty sound - anybody who is working that much overtime (even with the required 1.5X pay) is either under duress or is harming himself (and more importantly harming and risking the lives of others) to an unacceptable degree. I the idea that anybody who has worked a 16 hour day is safe to drive home is just outright ludicrous. Preventing that is no more an infringement of liberty than to say you can't drive drunk.

              Either way - yes, it IS worker abuse. The fact that this worker abuse happens in developing nations as well just proves that the problem is wide-spread it doesn't mean it's not a problem.

              I notice a common thread here - everyone of these "I used to work 12-hour days too" posts have something in common: they all did it when their career choices were limited.
              In my view the idea that it was "just how I got my success when I started out" is stupid. That's trying to feel good about not standing up for yourself back then.
              No - the difference is - if your boss tried to demand that now, you would probably tell him to shove his job since you've got the qualifications and education to get another one (which will probably pay MORE than what you are earning now). Back then you didn't - and somebody exploited your lack of options.

              The 40 hour work-week wasn't just made up. It began with ath 1895 May Day riots in New York, which would subsequently lead to the yearly celebration of worker's day internationally. Those strikes and riots were specifically about getting the 40-hour work-week. The people who led the organisation got framed for murder (which they were subsequently proven absolutely innocent off) - and received summary executions (back then the USA did that).
              Good people died so you could have the right to demand extra pay for overtime, they died so you could refuse it, they died so you could see your family at night, so you could get a night's rest, so you could have a social life and not JUST a work life.
              I think it's important that their death not be in vain because you take pride in your work. Taking pride in your work is fine, it's nobel, but so is damn well insisting that you will go home at the end of the day.

              • by Splab (574204)

                What country is that?

                Haven't heard of anyone making it downright illegal to work more than 40 hours.

                • South Africa.
                  Mind you - I left management behind about 5 years ago because I prefer to be a real engineer :P

                  So if it's changed since then, I wouldn't know, it certainly was the labour law around 2006.

              • by flimflammer (956759) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @07:04AM (#41233013)

                I don't think it's anyone's business but mine if I want to accept working 80 hours a week. No one is forcing me (if your employer was forcing you then that would be different). The thought that my manager could be sent to jail if I lived where you did over a decision of my own making is what sounds ludicrous to me. Those kind of hours saved me on more than one occasion, and despite stints of varied length working 9am to 10pm at that job, I was never in any danger driving home. Sure if if those kind of hours were physically demanding I could see a problem, but sitting at a desk, or even an assembly line?

                • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo @ w orld3.net> on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @07:44AM (#41233159) Homepage

                  I don't think it's anyone's business but mine if I want to accept working 80 hours a week. No one is forcing me (if your employer was forcing you then that would be different).

                  Maybe you do it voluntarily but many people are not lucky enough to have that choice. By doing 80 hour weeks you are pretty much forcing other people to do them as well if they want a job, otherwise they are not going to get the work.

                  Those kind of hours saved me on more than one occasion

                  Oh, so actually it wasn't quite as voluntary as you made out.

                  I was never in any danger driving home. Sure if if those kind of hours were physically demanding I could see a problem, but sitting at a desk, or even an assembly line?

                  Concentrating for 12+ hours in a day is mentally demanding. I'm sure someone will think of some extremely easy job where it might be possible to work 80 hour weeks safely, but they represent a tiny fraction of the available work and even then only some people in good health will be able to do them safely.

                • by drinkypoo (153816)

                  Sitting or standing in one place for hours is unhealthy. It is, in fact, physically demanding.

                  People who spend too much time working aren't complete people. They become work units.

                • by sjames (1099)

                  As long as your job doesn't endanger your co-workers or the public if you make fatigue related mistakes, you don't drive home after your 16 hour day and you don't end up on disability later after you've used yourself up, then yes it's nobody's business but yours and your employers ( arguably unless there's qualified people out of work who are ready and willing to be employed).

                  In other words, yeah, there actually are a few more people involved than you imagine.

              • by trout007 (975317)

                The problem is you are forcing your values onto another person. What if someone prefers to work 96 hours a week? What if their goal is to save money for something like college. They want to put one year of working 12 hours a day 6 days a week. You think you have the right to say you can't work that much? Go home and sit on the couch and watch TV because that is what I like to do?

                • by silentcoder (1241496) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @09:29AM (#41233829) Homepage

                  Nope, I don't.
                  But I do have a right to say that if your boss asks you to do that HE is violating everybody else's freedom and I certainly have a right to say that if you have DONE that then you shouldn't qualify for tax-funded medical care (since your early death is caused by your own stupidity), you sure as hell aren't allowed to drive (but by all means, take the bus).

                  See the thing is though, there is SO much that I can RIGHTFULLY tell you you CANNOT do if you do that (on the basis that if you do you ARE infringing on MY freedoms) - and so little that is LEFT, that it's really simpler to just ban it outright because frankly you really are NOT losing anything that's worth the price *I* have to pay for YOUR drug addiction.

                  And yes, working that much IS an addiction. Not all drugs are chemicals.

        • Are you sure? (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Taco Cowboy (5327)

          I worked construction for a few summers after high school -- 12 hour shifts weren't uncommon (on my feet the whole time)

          Come again, buddy??

          I worked in construction sites every summer during my college years, for I desperately needed money to pay for books and food and shelter

          From scaffolding to steel framing high rises, never did I have to be on my feet for the entire 12 hour shift

          Which job were you in, buddy?

          • Re:Are you sure? (Score:5, Informative)

            by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @02:43AM (#41231987)

            I worked construction for a few summers after high school -- 12 hour shifts weren't uncommon (on my feet the whole time)

            Come again, buddy??

            I worked in construction sites every summer during my college years, for I desperately needed money to pay for books and food and shelter

            From scaffolding to steel framing high rises, never did I have to be on my feet for the entire 12 hour shift

            Which job were you in, buddy?

            I worked for a heavy construction company, primarily doing road construction - doing things like shoveling asphalt that fell out of the paver, raking down stone to level it, pressure washing mud off the heavy equipment before loading it for transport to another job site, directing trucks to dump their load where it was needed, subbing in for flagman when needed, etc. About the only time I got to sit down was when I had to drive to pick up parts or, when I was lucky, get a cushy job escorting heavy/wide loads.

            • Re:Are you sure? (Score:4, Insightful)

              by rtb61 (674572) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:59AM (#41232387) Homepage

              That's normally referred to as civil works, a distinction because of the lack of skills required in labour. Construction work is separate due to the skills required even in labouring work. I have done 12 hour shifts on a production like, fortunately with an agile mind and vivid imagination, it was easy to park my body on the task at hand whilst my mind was elsewhere. Still it is easy based upon my experience to see where RSI comes from and it logical long term consequences upon people who lack the intellectual ability to move on. That lack of intellect should not be a reason to exploit, leave the in a dead end position which they will not be able to sustain till retirement and to give them no real future.

              We is it contrary to right wing bullshit, those that work the hardest in the most undesirable jobs get paid the least and those that put in the least real effort in the most desirable jobs get paid the most. A fair and honest society recognises this and makes an adjustment, an inherently insane, deceitful and dishonest society simply exploits the situation. Turns human beings into drones working in poverty, to be ruthlessly exploited unto death.

              What ever happened to the lie about increased productivity and automation, it would seem the benefits only got shared amongst the top psychopathic 1% and the rest simply got screwed over. It's time to start nailing the 1% and teach them a thing or two about being ruthlessly exploited.

              • by codman1 (904493)
                "lack the intellectual ability to move on" Who said they lack the intellectual capacity, I don't think there are that many jobs that pay as well as these assembly jobs. They get paid the going rate or above it, and have subsidised housing and food. Without these job many would be in small towns farming earning even less and in poorer working conditions.
        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          sometimes putting in 80 hours or more of overtime a month (six 10 hour days/week)

          It's understandable your brain would be a bit fried after that.

          • What's wrong there? 80 hours a month is about 20 hours a week. With a 40 hour normal working week, that means 60 hours including his overtime. Six days of 10 hours a day is 60 hours a week.
      • Common (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I came here just to say this. At one factory where I worked 12 hour days seven days a week with three days off was the normal schedule. They made armored military vehicles for the US Army, so most of the time people were walking around for parts or welding in odd positions.

        The trucking fleet worked the legal maximum to save money: 14 hours a day six days a week.

        Equipment costs more than the people that run them, so the equipment keeps going whether the workers are fatigued or not.

      • by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad.arnett@notf ... g ['hir' in gap]> on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:25AM (#41231653)
        My work experience now is somewhat different. For being with a company where I directly support stock market traders, the atmosphere is entirely laid back. I'm salaried, but if I work more than eight hours a day (which is usually out of personal interest in what I'm doing) I typically have my boss or someone nagging me to go home. I actually spend some time working on an urgent issue over a weekend a couple weeks ago of my own volition, and when I told my boss that Monday, he became really concerned that I had to put in some extra time (i.e. what broke and is it still broke), and then told me to feel free to take off however much I needed to make it back up to myself. I found out later I got put in for some "above and beyond" recognition thing for giving enough of a damn to make sure that stuff isn't falling apart around me.

        We all talk doom and gloom, but at the end of the day, it's really not completely impossible to find a company that will actually hesitate before immediately and always treating their workers like shit. Of course, having that been said, I've had completely opposite experiences at other (and much shorter lived) jobs.
      • by drhank1980 (1225872) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:49AM (#41231763)
        I work in the USA for a company that makes chips for Samsung amongst others. Our normal shift is 12 hours on your feet in the fab. (on a compressed schedule, 4 days on 3 days off and then 3 days on and 4 days off, and yes I know China is doing 6/7 days a week as the norm but I also know the quality can/will suffer as we are still cheaper than our outsourced competition for their lack of quality and consistency on a cost per good die metric). Its great money for those of us who work it and many of us sign up for overtime on our days off.

        Also more to the point of the article, if you are doing inspections for 12 hours in a row on anything complex, you will suck as an inspector and I would hope Samsung would not accept this as a practice in China (or anywhere for that matter) for the interest of QA for their products but maybe I am asking too much.

      • My girlfriend is a doctor in her residency. By time you do the math she isn't working for much over minimum wage. They'll regularly do 12-16 hour shifts when 'on call'. They're salaried so there is no such thing as over time. And while the shifts do rotate throwing your sleep schedule around that much and working that long you pretty much come home, eat and sleep.

        Now it obviously gets better but the long hours and low pay aren't something that is just limited to uneducated labor.

    • by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:48AM (#41231759)

      Sure it's that, but you're doing the same five second repetitive job over and over and over for twelve hours straight. While standing.

      Sound lame already?

      Kay, now envision yourself in that job for 65 - 70 hours a week. You earn $125 per week with all of that overtime. Seem illegal? It is, the maximum amount of overtime per month is 36 hours. But never-mind knowing what your contract says or trying to fight this, you never got a contract. And boy does your boss breath down your neck, and he gets real personal with insults too, calling you a lazy fat slacker and says he hopes you hurt yourself. Want to complain to his boss? Can't, there's no way of putting in complaints.

      And what if you do hurt yourself, you have medical insurance that you've been paying like $100 for. Except you don't have your medical insurance card, they never gave you one.

      ---

      Humans really haven't seem to evolved much past slavery, since business owners are trying the best they can to get as close as they can. And sure, everyone and their brother says slavery is wicked and evil, even those crooked business owners. But if you were to allow slavery, you would be surprised at the number of people that would turn back on their words.

      I simply must say, capitalism really does bring out the worst in people.

    • by na1led (1030470)
      If you lived in China, you would still be standing 12 hours in a single shift, working in a shithole.
  • yea but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Osgeld (1900440) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:48AM (#41231443)

    what do you expect?

    its a factory assembly job with very low entry requirements, just like everywhere else, you do your thing, all day every day, for a modest pay that can support your family if your not living beyond your means.

    surprise!

    now if we can get Americans to accept that "detailing cars" is not a 50$ an hour job maybe we can regain our strength

    • Re:yea but (Score:4, Insightful)

      by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@nOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:26AM (#41231655)

      I worked on an assembly line in the USA building solid state motor control devices (for 240v loads up to 19000 volt motors, like rock crushers). We took two 15 minutes breaks, and a 30min break for lunch. When we worked 12 hour days we took another 15min break and another 30min off for dinner. We weren't standing on our feet for longer than a few hours at a time. We also were cross trained in different areas so that we didn't have to do the same repetitious task over and over again (so we didn't ruin our hands). Eventually I was cross trained on every part of the lines from cutting holes for displays in enclosures, to painting them, using the programming the CNC machine, mounting parts, wiring and even testing them.

      When another area was too slow or short staffed we could put more folks on that line. There were less problems between divisions than at other companies where everyone was stuck on the same area (even those places had a variety of different tasks for each worker). Folks who knew the whole place could take a prototype from start to finish and document the assembly process to go with the engineering schematics), eventually such people become a managers with desk jobs who actually understood how things work.

      There's no reason to have folks doing the exact same repetitive task day in day out for years, ruining them. We need to make more stuff in the USA. I used to prefer to spend a little more on products with the "Made in the USA" logo because I knew the workers weren't being used up and thrown away, like they do in China. Nowadays I don't buy things with that proud USA logo anymore, but only because they don't exist.

      If we can't get them to manufacture things in the USA, then we need to get the foreign plants to increase their workers rights. Maybe we impose a tariff? I don't know what the answer is. Folks with morals don't have choices anymore. I make money developing software for the devices, so I have to buy them wherever they're made. What's your fucking excuse?

      • by TheLink (130905)

        There's no reason to have folks doing the exact same repetitive task day in day out for years, ruining them.We need to make more stuff in the USA.

        Sure, but they'll be made by robots and factory automation. Doing the same task day in and out is what robots are good at.

        And when the robots get cheap, efficient and flexible enough, they'll replace even the Chinese workers. Foxconn are already replacing some jobs with robots - since the cost of their Chinese workers have been increasing.

        So where will the jobs be? I doubt 100% of those people losing their jobs will get similar paying jobs because:
        1) The whole idea is to cut costs and save money.
        2) We're su

        • by Ostracus (1354233)

          Naw, piracy takes the potential out of virtual anything. Being exploited by the masses or being exploited by the rich is still exploitation.

        • by sjames (1099)

          What will actually happen is either people will start getting paid more fro working less (sharing the benefits of our technical advances) or eventually a bunch of poor people will literally tear the rich limb from limb by hand in a bloody revolution.

      • by Ash Vince (602485) *

        If we can't get them to manufacture things in the USA, then we need to get the foreign plants to increase their workers rights. Maybe we impose a tariff? I don't know what the answer is. Folks with morals don't have choices anymore. I make money developing software for the devices, so I have to buy them wherever they're made. What's your fucking excuse?

        The problem is that even with the increase in workers rights it is often still cheaper to manufacture stuff abroad. In the case of most things Samsung make it is because the raw materials they need like rare earths are only being dug up in that part of the world now.

        They used to be mined in the US but the mine closed when the price of rare earths was low few years ago (China flooded the market). This was a clear case where it was stupid to let that mine close, it should have been subsidised or an import ta

    • what do you expect? Its a factory assembly job with very low entry requirements

      Should we not expect regular inspections paid for by Samsung?

      Should we not expect wage increases for the workers working on Samsung products, subsidized by Samsung?

      Should we not expect Samsung demand reduced working hours of workers assembling Samsung gear?

      Should we not expect Samsung issue a supplier responsibility statement [apple.com] with regular reports on progress - even if not believed at least something to hold them to?

      All of these

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        Should we not expect ... XYZ... paid for by Samsung?

        All of these are things Apple has done with FoxConn.

        If Samsung would do the same, won't it risk suits of... ripping off what Apple did?

        </grin>

        • Yes, would you mind if they copied Apple for an altruistic reason for once?

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            Yes, would you mind if they copied Apple for an altruistic reason for once?

            What?!? This is an attack to free market, freedom and other high values in someone's constitution! That's commie think!!

            </very_large_grin> (warning: if you continue down this path, I'll feel compelled to issue a whooosh! ticket)

    • Whats wrong with that? The fact that you probably think not living beyond your means includes living without health care in a country that price gouges everything and treats its workers like shit.

      America. Land of the scumbag.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      now if we can get Americans to accept that "detailing cars" is not a 50$ an hour job maybe we can regain our strength

      It's called supply and demand. And let us not forget liability. I sure wouldn't fuck around with other people's cars for less. If I break something I have to replace it and one piece of plastic can trivially be more than fifty bucks.

  • Wait... (Score:5, Funny)

    by tooyoung (853621) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @12:54AM (#41231489)
    Why would we care about working conditions at a non-Apple factory?
  • by bhcompy (1877290) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:02AM (#41231539)
    I mean, Apple invented near slave labor conditions in China to build iProducts. Pretty sure Apple should take them to court for infringing on the "method of using Chinese for slave labor to build electronic devices while also increasing the suicide rate" patent
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      I mean, Apple invented near slave labor conditions in China to build iProducts. Pretty sure Apple should take them to court for infringing on the "method of using Chinese for slave labor to build electronic devices while also increasing the suicide rate" patent

      Dam'd if Samsung does it, dam'd if it doesn't.

      You see, Apple was also the first to look into the working conditions and do something to improve them; highly likely they also patented this as well.
      I'd say Samsung is better not to do anything about it: it will infringe on only one Apple's patent instead of two (additionally to whatever benefits slave labor already provides).

  • by grumpyman (849537) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:14AM (#41231589)
    They should deploy minimum wage and laws on safe work conditions [wikipedia.org] so that employer cannot exploit their situations [about.com].
  • by epp_b (944299) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:19AM (#41231623)

    Is it just me or does "assembling camera lenses" (among other things) sound like something that could be mechanized? I mean, it's not like the lens needs to be different from phone to phone and I'm sure the same could be said for many other parts.

    I'm not trying to say that these people should be put out of a job, but wouldn't it be better if some of them could have a lot more job satisfaction from better, more interesting work, with real responsibilities, where they are more than just assembly monkeys? ...and then use that to build a better economic system for themselves where a lot more people can have more rewarding careers?

    • The main issue is flexibility. A largely human-operated factory has a higher operating cost than a mostly automated one, but it's much faster to make changes to the product. This is really important in markets like mobile phones, where a product is often produced for under a year, often under six months. By the time you've set up an automated factory, the product is almost EOL, and it won't be produced for long enough to recoup your initial investment. This is starting to change, as companies like Foxco
  • Alternatives (Score:4, Insightful)

    by humanrev (2606607) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:19AM (#41231627)

    Yes, it all sounds very crap to work there. But what are the alternatives?

    1) The human workers are replaced by robots - this is unlikely to happen since human labor in China is so plentiful and desperate as to make it actually cheaper to "run" humans than robots. But even if it did eventually happen, you'd end up with a whole lot of people without work (and all the associated problems this creates). Menial factory work at least gives them something to do, even if their lives exist solely for someone else's profit.

    2) Improve conditions, reasonable work hours, etc - sounds great, except that if one factory does this, another factory will advertise how they haven't, and so businesses will go to the other factory as they wouldn't have to deal with the reduced output and increased costs of having to treat humans like... well, humans.

    3) Improvement of conditions, reasonable work hours via Government mandate - so the factories don't have any choice now and are forced to treat people like they should (more or less). Great, except that this will rise the cost of the products created and the costs will naturally be passed onto consumers in first-world countries. The electronics we buy are as cheap as they are precisely in a large part due to the slave work done in countries far away from us. Would people complain if prices went up as conditions in said countries improved? Damn right they would, unfortunately.

    So what do you do? You could buy local, or at least try to. Sometimes that works, but in most cases it's not even possible, and odds are you'll find components that were sourced from the less desirable factories anyway. You can't win, short of abandoning almost all forms of modern electronic equipment. There simply isn't enough pressure to change the statue quo.

    • The Alternatives (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jeko (179919) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @02:28AM (#41231919)

      Menial factory work at least gives them something to do, even if their lives exist solely for someone else's profit.

      Boom. There. Right there. There's your problem. If you're a fellow American, if you're a fellow member of Western Civilization, how does that not offend you to your core? "Their lives exist solely for someone else's profit" is the working definition of slavery. How can you possibly find this to be an acceptable situation?

      Improvement of conditions, reasonable work hours via Government mandate

      Which is how we ended child labor and instituted the 40 hour work week in this country, BTW...

      Great, except that this will rise the cost of the products created and the costs will naturally be passed onto consumers in first-world countries.

      Common misconception. Prices are set not by what the costs of production are but by what the market will bear. Ever hear a company say, "Our costs allow us to make a 300% markup, but we felt that amount of profit was unconscionable, so we marked the price down..."?Rising production costs don't get passed on to the consumer because the price is already set at the maximum the market will allow.

      The electronics we buy are as cheap as they are precisely in a large part due to the slave work done in countries far away from us. Would people complain if prices went up as conditions in said countries improved? Damn right they would, unfortunately.

      God Help Us, then let them complain. Let's call this the "Papa John" principle. When Papa John complained last month that providing his workers with healthcare would cost an extra quarter per pizza, the first thing that came to my mind was "Cool. You mean I can ensure my pizza guy doesn't have tuberculosis for an extra quarter? What can we get those poor guys if I kick in fifty cents?"

      Seriously, if I pay an extra 20 bucks for my iPhone, I can eliminate slavery in China? Good grief. Bill me. If I kick in $40, can I free the North Koreans too?

      • Re:The Alternatives (Score:5, Interesting)

        by subreality (157447) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:21AM (#41232195)

        If you're a fellow American, if you're a fellow member of Western Civilization, how does that not offend you to your core? "Their lives exist solely for someone else's profit" is the working definition of slavery. How can you possibly find this to be an acceptable situation?

        Americans live to work, not work to live. In our own country we only get two to three weeks off a year, work relatively long hours (40 hours a week is considered a bare minimum slacker level, compared to most of the rest of western civilization where it's considered working yourself to death, let alone the 60-80 hours that MANY Americans have to work), and are completely dependent on staying employed lest we have no health coverage, yet we have poor job security even when we're being good little wage slaves.

        That's how it is for lower and most middle class Americans; the upper-middle class at least has some savings to give themselves some safety net, but it's pretty much just how life is for the proverbial 99%.

        Compare this to the Tianjin workers in TFA. It's different in degree, but that's not shocking when comparing a thoroughly post-industrialized nation with a developing one.

        I'm not saying the situation is acceptable in either case. I'm just not surprised that people aren't outraged when it's not that fundamentally different from the conditions at home.

      • by humanrev (2606607)

        Boom. There. Right there. There's your problem. If you're a fellow American, if you're a fellow member of Western Civilization, how does that not offend you to your core? "Their lives exist solely for someone else's profit" is the working definition of slavery. How can you possibly find this to be an acceptable situation?

        Well I'm a fellow Australia actually, but that's still western so it's all good. Anyway, yet it does offend me (the bit about people being slaves, not the bit about being Australian). Now I

      • Seriously, if I pay an extra 20 bucks for my iPhone, I can eliminate slavery in China? Good grief. Bill me. If I kick in $40, can I free the North Koreans too?

        There was an article a few months back where an Apple spokesdroid said it would cost, I believe, an extra $35 if the iPhone were made in the USA, with US employment and environmental laws applying to the factory. We're talking under a 10% increase in price on a piece of consumer electronics, but that's ignoring the fact that a great many of the components would still be made in China. I wouldn't be surprised if the cost were closer to 25% more at the end. That's fine for luxury goods like the iPhone, bu

    • >Would people complain if prices went up as conditions in said countries improved? Damn right they would, unfortunately.

      Not so sure, a survey among apple customers found that 90% of them said they would happily pay 10% more for an apple product if they could get a written guarantee that, that entire 10% would be given to the factory workers.
      If apple added a dollar to the price of every iphone - with a guarantee that it would go to a factory worker as a whole - that dollar would probably double their inco

  • Assemblling 200 lenses per day of flipping 200 burgers per day? Which one is better for the country?
  • kids with jobs! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dAzED1 (33635) <<brianlamere> <at> <yahoo.com>> on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @01:49AM (#41231761) Homepage Journal
    FTFA: "At least 3 factoriesâ"TSMD, SEHZ, and SSKMTâ"have been discovered hiring workers under 18 years of age"

    Um...so? I was working at the age of 14, and had a normal non-farm job at the age of 16 (worked at a grocery store). Just because we don't expect people to be anything other than helpless children until age 26 or so these days, doesn't mean that less than 26 years ago teens had jobs. And while yes, it wasn't until I was 19 that I worked at a factory, it really didn't kill me. For serious.

    • Re:kids with jobs! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jeko (179919) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @03:02AM (#41232125)

      Hey Farm Boy,

      You and I probably have similar blue-collar backgrounds and work histories, and I have the scars on my back and face to prove it. We're not talking about kids there feeding the goats and collecting eggs. We're not talking about the double-bit ax I was handed at eight years old. We're talking situations closer to ones we had in America, where we sent small children into coal mines because it was cheaper to dig exploratory tunnels that could only fit little kids instead of a full-grown man. A lot of those little boys didn't make it out when their makeshift tunnels collapsed on them. Underage labor in China doesn't mean we sent the kid out under the Texas sun to clear the field. Underage labor in China is a lot more "Oliver Twist" than "The Waltons."

      But let's consider your experience. Just because you and I have had hardscrabble lives, does that mean it was right, or does that mean we think our kids should follow in our footsteps? My grandfather never finished grade school. My father had a tractor roll over on him and shatter his leg in several places. He walked with a noticable limp for the rest of his life because of a lack of proper medical care. I can tell you in exquisite detail what blood and bone tastes like and what a shot fired in anger at your head sounds like as it whizzes by.

      Sure, we're all badasses here. But is this what we want for our kids? I got a handful of my own, and if my boys went their entire lives without making a fist and meaning it, that would suit me just fine.

      Maybe it was the time I spent as a teacher, maybe it the result of being a father for so long, but I find my paternal insticts grow as I get older. Little kids, whether they're mine or not, are little kids. I don't wanna hear about kids in China being worked to death in God-forsaken pits any more than I'd like to hear about the same being done to mine.

  • What kind of "China Labor Watch" would they be if they reported everything was OK? They have an incentive to report bad news, and spin everything in a negative direction. For all we know, they could be like NPR and think they don't even need evidence, engaging in outright fabrication [npr.org]. And why not? It supports their pre-existing mental state. "We didn't think that he was lying to us and to audiences about the details of his story."

    Hey, I'm not saying Chinese factories are heaven. Even in America, facto

  • by jandersen (462034) on Wednesday September 05, 2012 @04:07AM (#41232419)

    I find it very hard to ascertain what the facts are when it comes to China. One very big reason is that there are so many groups with an extreme anti-China agenda, who will invent or distort just about any tall tale to support their claims; I don't think I need to dig out any references - they must be well known by now. So can we trust what "Labor rights group China Labor Watch" have to say? I don't know.

    So, to me it is back to what seems plausible. That factory workers in China seem to regard their work in the same way as any factory worker in the West does - that seems plausible to me. It is not unlikely that they are expected to work much harder than we are used to - the Chinese I know personally all have an unbelievable work discipline. Just to compare: I've had a British builder do some work on my house; he turned up around 9 am and left around 5 pm after doing some quite decent work. I've recently had a Chinese builder do a similar sort of job, to the same standard; but he didn't leave until around 8 pm. I think it is simply in their culture to work very hard, and what would feel like unreasonable to an American or European may seem quite reasonable to a Chinese.

  • Why do I get this feeling it's Apple trying to get some anti-Samsung feelings out there? After all, the iPhone factory stories of suicides and crap like that really got some talk time before. If this is what it was supposed to be, it's weak. Otherwise, I'm not sure what is new or interesting about this story.

    • by number6x (626555)

      Why do I get this feeling it's Apple trying to get some anti-Samsung feelings out there? After all, the iPhone factory stories of suicides and crap like that really got some talk time before. If this is what it was supposed to be, it's weak. Otherwise, I'm not sure what is new or interesting about this story.

      It is interesting how many anti-[insert name of current lawsuit foe] stories show up in the media when apple or someone starts to sue a company.

      Not to excuse the behavior, but it seems to happen with companies other than apple as well.

      Is it really coordinated, or could it be the increased attention of the lawsuit gets journalists to start doing background on the parties involved? Those background research efforts then lead to these stories. Before the apple lawsuit, who outside of South Korea paid much at

Remember: use logout to logout.

Working...